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George Church Harvard Scientist Discusses the World of the Personal Genome Project – The Basis for Personalized Medicine f

Posted Jan 31 2010 11:00am

I have featured this video before here at the Quack and it is well worth another look on how the world of personalized medicine is growing, based on the PGP image(Personal Genome Project) from it’s start to where we are with this knowledge today.   George Church has a great partner in his wife too, who is also the skeptic and questions how this knowledge is and/or will be used.  She offers a great amount of insight in acknowledging that this does/can exist.  As time has evolved, has this been attempted?  I think so, but it’ somewhat a topic that most feel uncomfortable discussing, but Mrs. Church is dialed in.

When you watch this video you will also see another source of great wisdom we all look up to in the area of Health IT, Dr. John Halamka, who is quoted and well known all over the web from Harvard Medical School.  You can read his blog here:  Life as a Healthcare CIO.  Usually when Dr. Halamka adds some knowledge and shares at his blog, you can usually count on the fact that “he’s been there, done that”, in other words he gets involved at the first level to share and is not repeating the words of others.  We like that a lot and need more individuals of that caliber.  I have a description I use around the blog for those who repeat and are not participants, “Magpie Healthcare” and gosh the internet is full of that today, as well as many other places in life.  You don’t have to be a “Duck” to recognize it either, just be observant and see who’s talking.  New technology out there, Dr. Halamka is first to get out there and be “chipped” to explore and evaluate, took a lot of guts to give that I try, but the result we have in reading his material is the pros and cons and how it can or cannot be implemented or utilized with healthcare.

Back on topic here with George Church, here we have a person who has had a heart attack, worked with dyslexia and still have knowledge created that is benefiting the entire world with cures/knowledge to fight disease, as well as introducing a greater awareness as to why and how all of this happens with scientific research that went where nobody else would go.  Sometimes when diseases like dyslexia translate down to the layman level, levels of algorithmic formulas for determining insurance coverage, and just how we view an individual in general, all of this gets diluted with “superficial” judgments we tend to create, and instead of resorting to these areas of what we do with knowledge, it makes sense to actually understand why and give the judgment sides of this a break. 

In the project, George Church was volunteer number one.  His wife, with her pro-active role was immediately investigating the social roles of what he called the “most invasive” technology in healthcare today as a genetics professor at Harvard.  She’s in agreement with the project, but intensifies the “proper” use of this knowledge and how hard the social side of this is.  She talks about what people can do with this knowledge that “is good” and realizes what people will do with this knowledge that is “not so good”, in other words reality. In relating to what I talk about so much is the abuse of algorithms, in all areas from genomic information to all types of other abuse where you have knowledge and information from the “haves” taking advantage of the “have nots” in knowledge.  Look at what banks have done with using formulas/algorithms for wealth for a simple example.  It’s all there for those who want to take a look and understand why this has occurred. 

As use of scientific information and algorithmic formulas (they are used in the PGP) becomes more inter twined with the way we live our lives today, we begin to be able to more readily recognize the levels of those that perhaps are not curious and tend to remain with old values that don’t cut it today, look at what is being revealed in the headlines today with politics, you can’t miss it and behaviors of the past with hiding and getting away with things that in the past have been rolled under the carpet today can’t thrive with transparency and the intelligent movement of technology, in genomics and in healthcare from all the way around.  We have algorithmic formulas used to develop artificial body parts, like the pancreas.

Everyone somewhat pokes fun here a bit at the use of the word “algorithms” but that is what is used today for scientific research, decision making processes, and of course genomic research.  This discussion was even on the agenda at DAVO this year.   I decided 2 years ago to focus on this one word (algorithms) to hopefully bring an awareness around to all levels with the understanding of this one word, which is everywhere today, to help people understand what is at the core of all the not only scientific decisions made today, but also financial, healthcare, and other parts of our lives, like social networks.  Social networks would not be around today without algorithms and the individuals who created them, why, of course there’s a financial interest in generating income but the first element that enters the picture here is curiosity.  When algorithmic formulas are created with a high level of understanding and intelligence we have companies that make big dollars and the rest on the outside trying to figure out how to perhaps undue some of this to save money, and sometimes it’s the individuals responsible for this action that have no clue on how it all came about, you think? 

I did a post not too long ago that explores some of the use of technology and formulas, the algorithms and what’s going on.

Of course my mother reads my blog, you can always count on Mom to be supportive.  She is 85 years old and she gets some of this too.  I get a kick out of phone calls from her that tell me “hey I heard that word algorithm” on the news today, Dr. Phil said it too, but what Mom has done is opened up to the fact that she understands the world is changing and knows they are the formulas that denote change and the furthering of intelligence of today’s world.  The world has a huge scientific community that understands how this works, but there’s even a larger community in the world that doesn’t understand how the decision making processes of the world are changing today and what makes this happen, thus my focus here to try to create this awareness. 

The Personal Genome Project is all about algorithmic formulas, so the two go hand in hand and once more hats off to Mrs. Church for her ability to dive deep here and realize the impact that some will use information wisely and some will not.  Sometimes too it’s hard to figure out the difference too when you enter areas of risk management and cost only for decision making processes.  Nobody wants to deny anyone an ability to derive an income to reward intelligent and scientific work, but when those efforts are diluted into only dollars and cents without remembering the human side, well we have all seen a lot of that in the news the last couple years, so hang with me and the algorithms here as it might just open some new horizons along the way with awareness, intelligence and a greater understanding of where the global economy, healthcare research, drug creation and more is headed and hopefully we can socially hold those accountable that misuse the knowledge as well.  You can search this blog and find numerous post from the past too. 

The knowledge here is fascinating and unlocks many of the questions we have had for years, but again the “human” emphasis here and the admitting of the individuals involved in the project that it is is intrusive is an awareness shared, so it is up to all of us to try to see the PGP as constructive contributions and not get overly wrapped up in judgments of our fellow man to where the economic world simply wrangles only for profit with perhaps high focusing on gambling on the dollars to be made setting all precedences.  As George Church shows with his own healthcare issues in being transparent, this is an example for all to strive to contribute and participate within their own levels, and incentive for all to take an interest here as genomic research, algorithmic formulas, etc. are now part of the world we live in.   Abuse only continues to lead to “distrust” and you can see that all over the media today in so many of the articles you read.     

What is also of interest too is that communities, such as the Amish are also participating in genomic studies too, a wake up call maybe for some here to see how rapidly the sharing and knowledge is advancing.  What also really spurred my interest in Genomics goes back to 2008 when I was offered the opportunity to interview Dr. Patrice Milos, from Helicos, one of the companies that creates the machines that do the genomic sequencing.  

I learned a lot from that interview and Dr. Milos, who is their Chief Science Officer at Helicos.  

Dr. Milos and I were on complete agreement with one item, “it’s all about the software”, i.e. the “algorithms”.  BD

Church grew up dyslexic, developed narcolepsy in his teens and survived a heart attack. Somehow he found the wherewithal to invent technologies that make it possible to sequence DNA. Being narcoleptic means that he falls asleep five times a day in meetings, even as he runs one of the largest labs at Harvard and serves on advisory boards for numerous companies. "There are a few genetic traits that make people feel sorry for you," he says, "and there are some, like narcolepsy, at which people take personal offense unless you tell them in advance."

Related Reading:

George Church Talks about DNA Genomic Mapping in Plain Terms

George Church Says Microsoft and Google are Helping with the Growth of Personalized Medicine

Precision Medication – Lack of Education Holding up Progress for Personalized Medicine

Steven Pinker, Harvard Professor of Psychology talks about his genome, what he found out, what he learned, and how the psychological interpretations are somewhat still up for discussion
An Introduction to Genomics – Humans have Bugs just like Windows does and It’s all about the Code
The Burden of Knowing – Genetic Sequencing and what you might find out
Personal Genome Project looking for next wave of volunteers for an entire sequencing
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